At a time of growing concern over computer hackers targeting government and private industry databases, the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday bolstered its efforts to target cyber criminals.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of DHS, unveiled a major expansion of its cybercrime center in Fairfax, Va. The larger facility includes a forensic laboratory that grew from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet, new state-of-the-art classrooms to train agents and a new evidence vault to help store evidence for cyber cases.
The former U.S. Customs Service created the cybercrime center in 1997 — virtually the stone age in Internet time — and its mission to combat network intrusions, online theft of intellectual property and other cybercrimes has expanded dramatically. ICE was created by the 2002 merger of customs and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Although it is far better known for enforcing immigration laws, its agents also investigate terrorism, narcotics smuggling and other criminal cases.
ICE performs “critical work in combating criminals that use the computer as their weapon, perpetrating crimes ranging from child exploitation to the theft of intellectual property,” said Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “The development of this expanded Cyber Crimes Center provides this great workforce with the facility and tools they deserve to accomplish their mission.”
Mayorkas was led on a tour of the new facility Wednesday by ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, who also held a town hall meeting with center employees.
Officials said the center’s increased space will help it better coordinate large cyber operations. The facility has already helped investigate major cases such as the dismantling of the online drug marketplace Silk Road. The mastermind behind that site, Ross Ulbricht, was recently sentenced to life in prison.
The expanded cyber center comes amid recent revelations that two major breaches of U.S. government databases holding personnel records and security-clearance files exposed sensitive information about at least 22.1 million people, according to U.S. officials.
In the private sector, AshleyMadison.com, the online site aimed at people who want to cheat on their spouses, also acknowledged this week that hackers had stolen data about its users.